NSW coach Brad Fittler has categorically ruled out dropping captain James Tedesco for State of Origin Game II, with Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga and Blues great Andrew Johns slamming the backlash against the Roosters superstar. Tedesco endured a horror show in the 26-18 loss to Queensland in the State of Origin opener in Adelaide, prompting calls from within the NRL world that he should be on the Origin chopping block.
Blues advisor Greg Alexander defended his side's skipper after the game and said suggestions that he should be axed were "ridiculous". Alexander pointed to the NSW and Kangaroos' World Cup-winning captain's exemplary record in the representative arena as one of the main reasons why it would be crazy to drop him after one bad game.
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Unfortunately for Tedesco, the Origin opener was probably one of the worst performances in the glittering career of the two-time NRL premiership winner. Tedesco was at least partly at fault for three of the Maroons' tries and squandered several good opportunities in attack after opting not to pass the footy - most notably cutting back inside when he had Josh Addo-Carr on the outside, metres out from the Maroons tryline.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald's Danny Weidler, however, Fittler says there is no chance he will listen to calls to axe Tedesco. "James Tedesco is our captain ... not for a moment will I consider dropping him," Fittler said.
"It's not part of the thought process. He is not the reason we lost. I can't understand the commentary saying he should be dropped. He is one of the best players to play for NSW. If he is fit, he will be in the side and he will be captain."
Kangaroos coach Meninga has also been quick to leap to the defence of his Australia captain, who led the green and gold to victory in last year's Rugby League World Cup. Meninga described calls for Tedesco's Blues axing as "emotional bulls**t" and insisted that "he tried his heart out" in the opening State of Origin defeat.
"I know emotion gets involved, and people look for reasons why NSW lost the game. What about Queensland's defence being exceptional? They didn't give them too many opportunities," Meninga said. "If there was a Test this weekend, Teddy would be our captain and fullback."
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NSW halfback Nathan Cleary has also copped plenty of flak for his underwhelming performance in Game I for the Blues, with critics arguing the Penrith combinations are not working for Fittler at Origin level. Meninga suggested Penrith's Blues connections could also be having an impact on Tedesco's ability to play his natural game.
"There's been a lot of talk about NSW and the Penrith way of playing," Meninga added. "Penrith move the ball around really well and move the ball early. The ball moves away from the middle a bit, which takes Teddy out of it a bit and means he goes chasing the ball.
"Teddy always tries to get a feel for the game. He would have felt the energy levels were down in his team and he tried to lift those levels; he's the captain and takes it upon himself to make a difference."
Rugby league Immortal and NSW assistant Andrew Johns was fuming about the backlash against Tedesco on Nine's Sunday Footy Show, describing the commentary from within the NRL world as "embarrassing". Johns said: " These people coming out and bagging James Tedesco, they're embarrassing themselves. It just goes to show how little they know about the game.
"He's the NSW captain, he's been one of the best players for the last five-six years. If you have a look at his stats in that game, I spoke about the stop-start nature of that game, it was very hard to get any flow in the middle of the field.
"For them to come out and bag James Tedesco, it was clueless, it's absolutely ridiculous, I was laughing about it. I just can't believe people would be putting the heat on our captain, but not only that, the best player we've had in five-six years. It's laughable, absolutely laughable."
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